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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Why Can’t I Go Fast: Speed Limits Explained


In places like Europe, many areas have no speed limits, or at least increased speed limits. This is due to new car safety, road conditions, and a general increase in driver awareness and education throughout the continent. Places like Germany’s famed Autobahn, or sections of Italy’s Autostrada all have de-governed speed limits, and rightly so. Driver education, and driver safety is at an all time high. Cars are built to go over distances faster and safer than ever due to new car technology.

Bugatti Veyron Super Sport Speed

However, according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Speeding is a significant threat to public safety and warrants priority attention…Speed limits should promote safe travel, and should be perceived by the public as safe and reasonable.” But since much of the United States highway infrastructure has a speed limit of only 55-60mph, the public doesn’t perceive those limits as reasonable and are therefore more likely to speed and cause accidents because they weave through the slower traffic.

40-50 years ago, when most of this country’s speed limits were set, they weren’t set due to safety concerns, but rather, because of the gas shortage and the need to conserve fuel. Only recently has public safety become an issue with regards to speed limits. And those issues come from a rather uneducated viewpoint. Automobiles today are drastically more safe than those cars from years ago. Safety technology such as airbags, seat belts, and driver intervention technology like lane assist, and automatic braking all contribute to reducing overall traffic fatalities over the last 30 years.

Koenigsegg Agera 3

Going further, NHTSA condescendingly states, “If the public does not understand the consequences of speeding to themselves and others, they are less likely to adjust speeds for traffic and weather conditions, or to comply with posted speed limits. This can place serious strains on the limited resources that are available for speed enforcement and on the relationship between the police and the public. Voluntary compliance with speed limits can also be improved through greater use of speed management devices and techniques that can be built into the existing highway system.” That last part likely refers to speed cameras, which have been proven to cause more accidents than they prevent.

Currently, Texas is leading the nation in adopting higher speed limits, with one of its highways having an 85-mph speed limit and 80 mph on a few others. Put in place in 2012, the Texas State Highway 130, which has the 85 mph limit, has become the petri dish for faster speed limits. During the course of the last few years though, Texas has shown through its adoption of an increased speed limit that it doesn’t correlate to an increase in number of fatal accidents on a particular road.


Hopefully, Texas’s experiment will lead other states to increase their respective speed limits. However, with the current rhetoric in Washington, as highlighted above, and with all the current campaigns to decrease the speed limit again, it’s highly unlikely that will happen. Maybe we should all just move to Europe? There’s something decidedly un-American about NHTSA’s war on speed. Tell us what you think in the comments below.